If a family member has been told they have OCD, you have surely asked “What can I do to help?” Below is a guide of things you can do to help. This page is intended for family members of older teens and adults with OCD. If your child has OCD, there is a wealth of information for families of children and teens with OCD on our OCD in Kids website.
Learn more about OCD:
Education is the first step. The more you learn, the more you will be able to understand and help the person with OCD. Get started by:
- Visiting the About OCD section on this website to learn about causes, treatments, and more.
- Reading books on OCD.
- Becoming a member of the International OCD Foundation to receive our quarterly OCD Newsletter with information on the latest treatments and research, and to stay connected to the IOCDF community.
- Attending an OCD support group for family members.
- Finding other online research and resources.
Learn to recognize and reduce “Family Accommodation Behaviors:”
Family Accommodation Behaviors are things families do that enable OCD symptoms. Families are constantly affected by the demands of OCD. Research shows that how a family responds to the OCD may help fuel OCD symptoms.
The more that family members can learn about their responses to OCD, and the impact they have on the person with OCD, the more the family becomes empowered to make a difference!
Here are some examples of these problem behaviors:
Participating in the behavior. You participate in your family member’s OCD behavior along with them. Example: You wash your hands whenever they wash their hands.
Assisting in avoiding. You help your family member avoid things that upset them. Example: You do their laundry for them so that it is cleaned the “right” way.
Helping with the behavior. You do things for your family member that lets them do OCD behaviors: Example: You buy large amounts of cleaning products for them.
Making changes in family routine. You alter the way your family usually does things: Example You change the time of day that you shower or when you change your clothes.
Taking on extra responsibilities. Example: You go out of your way to drive them places when they could otherwise drive themselves.
Making changes in leisure activities. Example: Your family member gets you to not leave the house without them and this affects your interests in movies, dining out, time with friends, etc.
Making changes at your job. Example: You cut back on hours at your job in order to take care of your family member.
Help your family member find the right treatment.
The best treatment usually includes medicine, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and family education and support.
Learn how to respond if your family member refuses treatment:
Bring books DVD’s and/or CD’s on OCD into the house. Offer the information to your family member with OCD or leave it in an obvious place so they can read/listen to it on their own.
Offer encouragement. Tell the person that through the right treatment most people have a significant decrease in their symptoms. Tell them there is help and there are others with the same problems. Suggest that the person with OCD attend support groups, with or without you, talk to an OCD buddy through online support groups, or speak to a professional in a local OCD clinic.
Get support and help yourself. Seek professional advice/help from someone that knows OCD and talk to other family members so you can share your feelings of anger sadness guilt shame and/or isolation. There are several online support groups for family members. You can search for online groups here.
Attend a support group. Discuss how other families handle the symptoms and get feedback about how you can deal with your family member’s OCD.
By Barbara Livingston Van Noppen Ph.D.
Associate Professor University of Southern California
International OCD Foundation Scientific Advisory Board